What was the Cannonball Run?

Quck answer

The Cannonball Run was an illegal cross-country car race that took place in the United States during the 1970s and 1980s. It was inspired by Erwin “Cannonball” Baker, who set several cross-country records in the early 20th century. The race involved drivers competing to travel from New York City to Los Angeles in the shortest amount of time possible. Participants used various tactics to avoid getting caught by law enforcement, including using police scanners and radar detectors. The Cannonball Run became a cultural phenomenon and inspired a popular movie franchise. Despite its notoriety, the race was eventually shut down due to safety concerns.

Have you ever embarked on a journey by road? Maybe your family got into the car and set off with the windows down and miles of highway stretching ahead of you. How far did your adventure take you? Some road trips might last only hours, while others go on for days. In the U.S., many people dream of driving all the way from one coast to another.

How would you like to travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific Coast of the U.S.? What might you encounter along the way? Would you visit national parks? How about the Grand Canyon? There are countless astonishing sights to behold!

It may be difficult to believe, but some individuals have completed this coast-to-coast journey without making any stops to visit attractions. Instead, they drove as fast as they could on America’s highways to reach their destination. This tradition began in 1971 with the very first Cannonball Run.

What exactly is a Cannonball Run? It all began when the U.S. was considering implementing a nationwide speed limit in 1971. This would have made it illegal to drive over 55 miles per hour (m.p.h.) anywhere in the country. Many people were against this idea and some wanted to prove that it wasn’t necessary. They set out to drive across the nation at high speed and arrive safely.

Journalist Brock Yates and three others departed from New York City in a Dodge van. They arrived in Los Angeles 40 hours and 51 minutes later. They had maintained an average speed of 70 m.p.h. across the U.S. After this inaugural Cannonball Run, Yates decided to turn it into a regular coast-to-coast race.

The race’s official name was the “Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash.” It was named after Erwin G. “Cannon Ball” Baker, a race car driver who crossed the U.S. 140 times.

However, it became widely known as simply the “Cannonball Run.” This was largely due to a 1981 movie about the race. Starring Burt Reynolds and Farrah Fawcett, “The Cannonball Run” was a comedy. Many characters in the film were inspired by real Cannonballers, as the racers came to be called.

After Yates’s first Cannonball Run, the race was held in 1972, 1975, and 1979. The official starting point was the Red Ball Garage in New York City. The finish line was the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach, California. The winners of the final official Cannonball Run were Dave Heinz and Dave Yarborough. They completed the drive in 32 hours and 51 minutes.

Why is there no longer an official Cannonball Run? Racing on public roads is now illegal in the U.S. Additionally, driving at the average speeds achieved by many Cannonballers would exceed most posted speed limits.

However, many car and driving enthusiasts participate in the Cannonball Run Rally each year. The official route takes them through miles of breathtaking scenery. It also provides drivers with information about great places to visit along the way. This rally is not a race, but it is a fantastic way to experience much of what America has to offer.

Have you ever driven from one coast to another in any country? It may seem like a long journey, but many say it’s worth it! After all, you never know what you might discover along the way.

Give It a Try

Are you ready to continue learning? Find an adult friend or family member who can assist you with the following activities.

  • Create a plan for your journey across America! Begin by taking out a map or searching for one online. Which roads and highways will lead you from one coast to another? Keep in mind that it will be a long drive, so you’ll need to take a few breaks. Choose five stops along the way. Which landmarks or attractions in the U.S. would you like to visit? Make sure to showcase your travel itinerary once it’s complete.
  • Explore some of the most picturesque road trips in America. Which of these destinations would you most like to explore? Explain your reasons to a friend or family member.
  • Were you aware that not all roads have speed limits? It’s true! Read about the autobahn. What sets the German speedways apart from most others? What rules must drivers in Germany adhere to? Write a letter or email to a friend or family member about the German autobahns.

Sources of Wonder

  • https://adventure.howstuffworks.com/cannonball-run.htm (accessed on 20th July 2020)
  • https://www.cannonballruncarrally.com/faq (accessed on 20th July 2020)
  • https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082136/ (accessed on 20th July 2020)


1. What was the Cannonball Run?

The Cannonball Run was an illegal cross-country car race that took place in the United States during the 1970s and 1980s. It was inspired by Erwin G. “Cannon Ball” Baker, who was known for his record-setting cross-country drives. The race involved participants driving at high speeds from the east coast to the west coast, covering a distance of approximately 2,800 miles. The objective was to complete the race in the shortest amount of time possible, often disregarding traffic laws and safety regulations.

2. How did the Cannonball Run start?

The Cannonball Run was first organized in 1971 by automotive journalist Brock Yates and his friend Dan Gurney, a race car driver. It started as a protest against the newly imposed 55 mph speed limit in the United States. The event gained popularity and attracted a mix of professional and amateur drivers who were eager to test their driving skills and push the limits of their vehicles.

3. Was the Cannonball Run legal?

No, the Cannonball Run was not a legal race. It was an underground event that violated various traffic laws and regulations. Participants would often use police scanners and radar detectors to avoid getting caught by law enforcement. The race was conducted on public roads, endangering not only the participants but also other drivers and pedestrians along the route.

4. Is the Cannonball Run still happening?

The original Cannonball Run ended in the 1980s due to increased law enforcement efforts and the risks associated with the illegal race. However, there have been attempts to revive the race in recent years, albeit in a more organized and legal format. These revival events, often called “Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash,” focus on completing the cross-country drive within the confines of traffic laws and speed limits.

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